Teresa McUsic

Where to turn online to save money on prescription drugs

CVS is among the major pharmacies participating in GoodRX.com.
CVS is among the major pharmacies participating in GoodRX.com. AP

If you pay full price for your prescription drugs out of your own pocket, you’re not alone.

Thirty million Americans pay full price for drugs. And 1 in 4 say they have difficulty paying for them, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But there are online tools to help those with high-deductible plans or no insurance at all pay less at the drugstore. Sometimes, considerably less.

One place to start shopping for your brand-name and generic drugs is called GoodRX (www.GoodRx.com).

The website, co-founded in 2011 by former Facebook executive Doug Hirsch, allows consumers to plug in their medications and in seconds receive prices for those drugs at local pharmacies with a coupon arrangement the company has already established.

All of the major pharmacy chains, including Wal-Mart, CVS and grocers like Kroger and Tom Thumb, are included in the data search, which is updated daily. In total, GoodRx checks more than 70,000 pharmacies in the U.S.

The range of prices among the major chains can be high.

For example, a month’s supply of 20-milligram tablets of the generic version of Lipitor, the high cholesterol medication, ranged in price this week from $9.95 at Tom Thumb to $61.73 at Walgreens.

Keep in mind these are cash prices. If you have insurance, Hirsch suggests that you have the pharmacy ring up both the cash and insurance prices to see which is cheaper out of pocket. You have the option of not using your insurance if the cash price is cheaper.

“We’re trying to keep the mystery out of shopping for medicine and keep it super simple,” he said. “There is no charge for the service and no signup. We find the best prices and put them before you.”

The GoodRx coupons can be used each month for the drugs, Hirsh said. Pharmacies in the program are aware of the coupons, but if there is a problem redeeming them, pharmacies can call GoodRX and the matter is usually resolved quickly. GoodRx says it makes its money from advertising on the website and referral fees.

This week, GoodRx announced a partnership with Express Scripts, the largest benefits manager in the country, which works directly with drug manufacturers and pharmacies to negotiate drug costs.

The relationship will have a major impact on GoodRx brand-name drug prices, Hirsch said.

“We’ve done a reasonably good job of bringing down generics, but brand-name drugs are notoriously higher in cost,” Hirsch said.

By adding Express Scripts’ negotiated prices into the GoodRx search engine, prices on 40 brand-name drugs that treat common illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, depression and gastrointestinal disorders will go down by 34 percent on average, Hirsch said.

Some prices will drop even more. For example, a vial of Humalog, a type of insulin for diabetic patients, now costs $174 with the GoodRX coupon at most major pharmacies listed by GoodRx, despite an estimated typical cash price of more than $300.

“We are adding more brand discounts by the minute,” Hirsch said. So if you don’t see your drug yet, keep checking the website.

Participating drug manufacturers in this new program include many of the major players, including Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

The one hitch to the new Express Scripts addition is that those age 65 and older cannot access the program, Hirsch said. A small administrative fee built into the program cost is not allowed under Medicare or Medicaid, he said. He hopes to resolve that issue soon, however, he said.

Hirsch said all of the pharmacies listed at GoodRx, including some online-only options, are accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. No Canadian pharmacies are listed.

Around 7 million use the GoodRx site each month, and Hirsh estimates it has saved them $2 billion in prescription drug costs since the company began in 2011. GoodRx also has a free downloadable app for smartphones that is the No. 1 medical app for Androids and iPhones.

GoodRx also has a feature for discounted common pet medications.

Online options

Blink Health (www.BlinkHealth.com). Customers pay cheaper prices for their drugs online, then pick up the prescription at a nearby pharmacy.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance Texas chapter (www.pparxtx.org) This program lists most of the drug discount programs and drug financial assistance programs from the major drug companies and government agencies for low-income people. The program gives access to 1,200 medications at a free or low cost. To contact by phone, call 888-589-3449.